By: Nicholas Eskey
Artist Dave McKean is in every aspect a Renaissance Man. He expresses himself in illustration, art installations, music, theatre, writing, graphic design, and more. Notable for his work with author Neil Gaiman on the Sandman comic series cover art, Mr. McKean always finds a way to stay creatively busy.
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the artist shared details about one of his latest projects entitled Blackdog: The Dreams of Paul Nash.
“’14-18 Now’ is an art program spanning 2014 to 2018 that takes about 20 commissions a year in regards to the years of the first World War,” explained Dave Mckean. “They’ve done exhibits, installations, plays, poetry, film and more. But they realized they hadn’t done a graphic novel as of yet, and wanted to do at least one. That’s when they asked me.”
Rather than focus on a period in the war, or on a group in particular, McKean decided that he wanted to focus on an individual’s journey going through dramatic events. “Interest of one man going through these experiences.” McKean decided that he would find an artist from that period. Eventually, he came upon Paul Nash.
“As I came to find out, Nash lived near me, and walked the same areas that I walk today.” Paul Nash was a rifleman during the war. When it came to his art, he really couldn’t draw people. He’s sceneries however were something else. “He often did these landscapes that were more like ‘dreamscapes,’” said Dave McKean. “The colors were gangrenish flesh, and any bodies were broken versions of their former.”
Aside from telling the story of another artist, Dave McKean said that he also loved that time period. “It saw the birth of comics, the reason that we are all here. And of silent films, of which I still watch and make personal comics inspired by them.
McKean also spend some time discussing why he loved graphic novels and visual art so much. “There’s a direct 1 to 1 relationship, like a book. There’s no sound, but if the pictures are good enough you can hear it. If they are good enough, you can see them move.”
When he was working out the logistics of Black Dog, McKean said that he didn’t want to do a biography. “James King had already done a great biography, and Nash did half of an autobiography before he sadly died… I decided I wanted the book to be a sequence of dreams that Nash was having.”
McKean pointed out that he chose Nash’s gravestone as the back cover for the book. He felt that it was an appropriate end. “If you read it, it says, ‘Born in London. Fell asleep.’ I added the sunflower for the picture, and then a raven came down and sat in the shot for a while. Everything was working for the project!”
The graphic novel’s title is reference to depression informed McKean. “Nash had a younger brother, and their mother suffered from depression. So much so that she was later committed. The two men feared that it was something in their genes and that they too suffered from it.
Here, I’m going to mention that Dave McKean also had his friend and agent Allen Spiegel, who had been silent up to this point. I mention this because here McKean turned to Spiegel and said, “You can come in at any time, or shall I finish the chapter?” To which Spiegel, looking up at the screen nearby, replied “You like green.”
“That’s why I need an agent,” said McKean.”
The art of Black Dog is 100% McKean. All you need to do is look at one panel and see that it’s him. Every chapter follows a different style, complete with its own colors and placement. I think this works well with the dream idea, for we never dream the same way each night. Our dreams change, just as we do.
Black Dog will premiere at the Tate Gallery in London, coinciding with a re-visitation exhibit of Paul Nash’s landscapes. Be sure to look for this graphic novel when it comes out fairly soon.